Shami Chakrabarti: 'An open liberal society is not an amoral one'

From the Fifth Annual Hands Lecture by the director of Liberty, given in Oxford
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The Independent Online

Modern ideas of democracy, human rights and the rule of law are not as the Prime Minister's speech-writers would suggest; heirlooms of the permissive 1960s or the distant 19th century.

All those who came before us played their part, but in truth, if we owe our modern notions of liberal society and a democratic world to any one generation, it is to those who lived through the Holocaust and the Blitz and designed the best framework possible for the avoidance of further such terrors.

Many totalitarians have confused our open liberal society with one devoid of all ideological or moral content. It is an easy enough mistake and one which many authoritarians and even some of the more liberal-minded amongst us help to perpetuate. All true democrats believe in liberty, equality, justice and the ultimate dignity and worth of every human being.

It is all too easy to caricature this as weakness or even decadence from within or without our society. It is so easy to blame crime on our system of justice or truancy on a lack of corporal punishment at home and school.

It is even easier, it seems, to blame every single societal ill on the various flows of migration that marked the end of Empire. Surely, if unwittingly, every time one of our politicians or other public figures denigrates progressive post-war values, they play a little more into the hands of those who think that we believe nothing, that ours is an amoral society in inevitable decline.

Those in permanent search of new codes for living would be well-advised to remember those we already have. Surely there has never been a nobler or more rational system designed by man.